A day after firing assistant coach Zach Smith, Ohio State Coach Urban Meyer was asked questions of the “What did you know, and when did you know it?” variety regarding his former employee’s history of alleged domestic abuse. Meyer acknowledged that he was aware at the time of a 2009 incident involving Smith and his then-wife and that the timing of the firing was related to allegations against Smith having become public.
Shortly before Meyer announced Smith’s dismissal Monday, college football reporter Brett McMurphy had reported on two incidents involving Smith, a 2009 arrest for aggravated battery on a pregnant victim, and a 2015 arrest on felony counts of domestic violence and felonious assault against his then-wife, Courtney Smith, who divorced him in 2016. She was granted a personal protection order Friday that requires him to stay 500 feet away from her, after Smith was charged earlier in the week with misdemeanor criminal trespassing for dropping their son off at her home instead of a prearranged public location.
In the 2009 incident, which occurred when Smith was working under Meyer at the University of Florida, a police report stated that after a “verbal altercation over infidelity,” he “grabbed” his then-wife, who was eight to 10 weeks pregnant, and “picked her up and threw her into the bedroom wall.” He denied those allegations, or engaging in “any form of physical violence,” and although police determined he was the “primary aggressor” (per McMurphy), Courtney Smith subsequently decided not to press charges.
Speaking Tuesday at a Big Ten media days session (via cleveland.com), Meyer described the Smiths as “a very young couple” in 2009, saying, “As I do many times, most coaches and people in leadership positions, you receive a phone call, first thing you do is tell your boss, let the experts do their jobs. We’re certainly not going to investigate. It came back to me that what was reported wasn’t actually what happened.”
Asked whether he fired Smith on Monday “because any of this became public” or “because there was another incident that led to the latest protective order on Friday,” Meyer said he wouldn’t “get into that,” as it was “a very personal matter.” The 54-year-old coach, who took over the Buckeyes’ program before the 2012 season and led it to a national title in 2014, added that “we are in a public world” and “to say that doesn’t have something to do with it, it does a little bit.”
“I try to stay focused on what’s the most important thing. That’s our players and our team. But I do understand the value,” Meyer said. “It’s the Ohio State University is bigger than all of us. So you have to do what’s right by them. And the timing. It wasn’t just my decision. It was a group effort on several people that I rely on.”
After leaving the podium, Meyer was asked to clarify his comments on Smith’s firing, and he said of the 2009 incident (via elevenwarriors.com), “We found out what happened according to both parties, we met with them. There were no charges. Everything was dropped. It was a very young couple and I saw a very talented young coach and we moved forward.”
On whether he had any regrets about how he and the school handled the dismissal of Smith, who was hired by Meyer when he arrived at Ohio State in 2012, the coach said, “No. We handled it the right way. I’ve been down that road — ‘Why didn’t you do this,’ or ‘Why didn’t you do that?’ — and it’s a very personal matter.
“Domestic issues are a lot of he said, she said. We care about people as they move forward.”
Of the reports on another incident in 2015, Meyer told reporters he had received “a text late last night” that “something happened” involving Smith that year, but he claimed “there was nothing.” Meyer added, “Once again, there’s nothing — once again, I don’t know who creates a story like that.”
McMurphy had cited a Powell (Ohio) Police Department arrest report from Oct. 26, 2015, in which Courtney Smith was said to have been “a victim of sustained physical abuse” by her then-husband. Officers returned to their home two weeks later to investigate a “menace-by-stalking claim,” but charges were not filed in either case.
In his clarifying comments Tuesday, Meyer said of the 2015 allegations, “I can’t say it didn’t happen because I wasn’t there. I was never told about anything, and nothing ever came to light.”
Last week’s legal proceedings were described by Meyer as something that made him “press pause and gather information, get [his] mind right, gather energy, and then step up to do the right thing.” He had ties to Smith that went beyond their years of professional association, as the latter is the grandson of former Buckeyes coach Earle Bruce, who was a mentor to Meyer.
Asked whether his relationship with Bruce was a “factor” in his handling of Smith, Meyer said, “Coach Bruce now is the strongest relationship I’ve ever had other than my father. I’ve made that clear many, many times. So the big picture that was very important in this particular situation, you know, I think that’s one of the hard jobs of a leader — you have to make decisions that are for the best of the program, and I did.”
Read more from The Post: